In 2014 Annelies van Parys (1975) composed her first opera, Private View, for Asko|Schönberg and Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart. Shortly afterwards this was awarded the FEDORA – Rolf Liebermann Prize for Opera. The Stuttgarter singers at once asked her to compose a new piece for them. Songs of Love and War/An Archive of Love will premiere on May 20th during the Rotterdam Opera Days.
For this full-length production of the Belgian Muziektheater Transparant Van Parys worked together with the Flemish author Gaea Schoeters and Het Geluid Maastricht. Last season they made the much acclaimed performance Het Kanaal (The Channel) about citizens who threaten to lynch a transgender and a refugee. This was inspired by a recently discovered text by Shakespeare, Van Parys now enters into a dialogue with dead and living colleagues. In addition to her own music, there is work by Claudio Monteverdi, Claude Vivier and José Maria Sánchez-Verdú.
Not war but love
‘Our piece has little to do with war’, says Van Parys in a Skype conversation. ‘Originally I wanted to compose a complete cycle named Songs of Love & War, but because I was working on a new opera I had to postpone this. I suggested editing my own Ah, cette fable which I wrote in 2017 for soprano and saxophone, on a text by Gaea. From there, we came up with the idea of doing something with a kind of archive. This explains the second part of the title, An Archive of Love. The first part refers to Monteverdi’s Madrigali Guerrieri et Amorosi Monteverdi from which we use some parts.
Schoeter’s libretto was based on a poem by Gérard de Nerval, which sprang from one of his dreams/psychoses. In it he describes an imposing winged figure, trapped in a small courtyard. Schoeters also drew on The Gap of Time, a narrative by Jeannette Winterson based on De Nerval’s original.
Van Parys: ‘Winterson gives the angel human traits. He was not taken prisoner, but has dived down to earth out of love. There he’s a somewhat preoccupied. If he flies away, he will destroy the building and his beloved, but if he stays he will die himself. – For an angel who doesn’t fly is lost. Gaea gives him the ultimate human characteristic: free will. Whichever choice he makes, the outcome is fatal, he faces a diabolical dilemma.’
Van Parys adapted Ah, cette fable for the six singers of Neue Vocalsolisten, Schoeters chose the remaining music. ‘The outcome is an ingenious puzzle, in which my piece serves as a guideline. Gaea chose very diverse compositions, which she linked together in a highly associative way. She strings pieces together that no sensible person would ever place in such an order. But although she has no musical background, they wonderfully match each other. I feared that I would have to compose a lot of musical bridges, but that proved not to be the case at all.’
From first spark to extinguishing relationship
The performance opens with an integral performance of Love Songs by Claude Vivier, as a prelude to the actual archive of love. ‘We have divided this into five themes, which roughly follow the evolution of love. Spark is about the igniting first spark, the arrow of Cupid if you like. The second chapter is Courting, about the subtle game of seduction.’
‘The third movement, Love, describes the fulfillment, the attainment of love. A bit cynical perhaps’, laughs Van Parys, ‘but this is the shortest part of all. Rupture describes decay and despair, the loss of love. We don’t end up in a negative mood, though, because this is followed by Repeat, in which there is room for cherishing memories. This movement is about the realisation that everything is cyclical, and that one day a new love will present itself.’
Claude Vivier and Pointer Sisters
‘The first music that sounds in the archive are the aforementioned Madrigali Guerrieri et Amorosi of Monteverdi. I had to edit them a little because they originally included instruments. We also hear some madrigals from Scriptura Antiqua by Sánchez-Verdú and echoes from Love Songs by Vivier to which I have made no changes. The whole is enlivened with associative quotations from famous love arias and songs.’
Van Parys provides a few examples. ‘When in Vivier’s cycle the text “Tristan, Tristan” sounds, you hear a patch of Romeo & Juliette from the Pointer Sisters. In Rupture we put two arias from Mozart’s Don Giovanni next to each other. Leporello’s famous “catalogue aria” and “Ah, fuggi il traditor!” by Donna Elvira are in totally different keys, which causes a huge collision. We also pair “Un di felice” from Verdi’s La Traviata and “Ah, je vieux vivre” from Roméo et Juliette Gounod. That makes for yet another big clash!’
No traditional play
The theatrical aspect of Songs of Love and War/An Archive of Love mainly lies in the interaction with the concertgoers. ‘Gaea and I were keen that it wouldn’t be a traditional play, it’s more abstract. There are different formations of singers, who sometimes stand behind, sometimes around or even within the audience. This constantly offers different approaches, so you can interact directly with the listener.’
In addition to this spatial arrangement, flowers are used. Van Parys: ‘They can represent a lot of different aspects of love. When you court someone, you give him or her flowers. When something snaps, this can be symbolized by a broken stem or a wilting flower. What’s special about flowers is that they are always beautiful. There is no more apt symbol of love than a flower.’
More info and tickets here.